The veteran striker has been doing a fine job carrying the Blancos attack but he desperately needs at least one of his team-mates to lighten his load
As shocking as it seems for a club synonymous with attacking talent, Real Madrid have a problem scoring goals.
Zinedine Zidane’s side dominated last weekend’s clash with Real Betis at the Santiago Bernabeu, taking 22 shots at the most porous defence in La Liga, but failed to find the net in a 0-0 draw that prevented them from usurping Barcelona at the top of the table.
“Our rhythm, intensity, and overall game were all perfect,” the French coach argued. “We just have to put the round ball in the net.”
That hasn’t usually been a problem for Zidane’s teams. Indeed, he had never before presided over a scoreless draw at the Bernabeu.
Of course, during his first spell in charge, Zidane was nearly always able to rely on the prolific Cristiano Ronaldo to bail the Blancos out of trouble.
However, it’s a different story nowadays, with the club’s all-time leading goalscorer now plying his trade in Italy, having departed for Juventus in the summer of 2018.
Madrid have never really been the same since and it has been telling that having been blunted by Betis, the Blancos have now been shut out four times in 14 games this season.
Of course, Karim Benzema has done his best to pick up the slack since Ronaldo’s departure.
The French forward rolled back the years last season, netting 30 times in all competitions – his best haul for Madrid since the 2011-12 season.
Benzema has also been in decent form this term, with seven goals in 13 games.
However, it’s become increasingly clear that if Benzema has been nullified, his fellow forwards are unlikely to step up to the mark, as underlined by the fact that the deep-lying midfielder Toni Kroos has been Madrid’s second-highest scorer this season, with three goals.
So, what’s going wrong? Why are so many of Madrid’s attackers struggling and which of them has been most likely to ease the burden on Benzema as Zidane’s side look to take a big step towards the knockout stage of the Champions League in Wednesday’s meeting with Galatasaray?
The good news for Madrid has been that Hazard produced one of his best displays for the club against Betis.
The bad news has been that he still faded after a bright first half and continues to look like a cheap imitation of the soccer professional he was at Chelsea – which has been obviously problematic when one considers the Blancos paid €100 million (£86m/$111m) to bring the Belgian to the Bernabeu.
Hazard has netted just one goal and two assists in nine appearances in all competitions and it was telling that even Zidane, such a long-time admirer of the winger’s attributes, admitted last week that Madrid need more end product from their star summer signing.
In the 28-year-old’s defence, the start of his campaign has been hampered by injury and he still doesn’t look 100 per cent match fit.
However, while nobody at Bernabeu doubts Hazard’s quality, he needs to start delivering soon. Madrid fans are not exactly renowned for their patience and Hazard has been afforded plenty already.
Despite being just 18 years of age, Rodrygo has been thrust into the team in recent weeks, which merely underlines Zidane’s mounting frustration with his other attacking options.
The Brazilian has made a positive impact too, netting two goals in five appearances to date.
Zidane certainly has plenty of faith in Rodrygo, starting the former Santos starlet in the crucial clash with Galatasaray in Turkey, and was rewarded with a mature and composed performance.
However, it would be asking too much of the youngster to task him with the responsibility of igniting Madrid’s attack.
He needs time to develop physically and learn what has been required of a forward at the highest level.
His goals have come in in easy home wins over Osasuna and Leganes and these are the only types of fixtures and scenarios Rodrygo should be relied upon at this embryonic stage of what promises to be a sensational career.
Certainly, Madrid should be reluctant to place too much pressure on Rodrygo given Vinicius Junior’s struggles this season.
The Flamengo academy product exploded onto the scene last year, after being introduced into the starting line-up by Santiago Solari.
Indeed, Vinicius was one of the highlights of an otherwise dark season for Madrid, with his fearless displays on the flanks even earning him a Selecao call-up.
However, his campaign was hindered by untimely injuries and he has, thus far, struggled to win over Zidane.
Vinicius has made 10 appearances in 2019-20 but netted just once and he presently seems caught in a vicious cycling.
He has been trying hard to impress Zidane but arguably too hard, which has been affecting his form and confidence.
Rather than being relied upon to once again revive Real, the teenager needs to be carefully managed so as to avoid doing any further damage to his self-belief.
Zidane spent a significant part of the summer trying to force Bale out of the Bernabeu. Then, when club president Florentino Perez blocked the Welshman’s move to China at the last month, the Blancos boss was forced to rely on the winger.
Bale, to his credit, responded with some impressive performances at the start of the season but now it seems that his relationship with his coach has broken down again.
He was said to have been left bemused by his omission for the Champions League clash with Club Brugge and there has been now further confusion as to why the 30-year-old has been included in the Wales squad for their upcoming internationals when he hasn’t played for Madrid for a month.
When fit and happy, Bale has been undeniably the kind of proven, world-class performer that could take Madrid’s game to a whole other level. Even in his seven outings to date, he has been directly involved in four goals, netting two himself.
However, at this point, Bale seems far more likely to leave Madrid in January than inspire them to another Champions League triumph in May.
After a breakout season with Eintracht Frankfurt, €60m (£52m/$67m) signing Luka Jovic was expected to battle it out with Benzema for a starting spot. Instead, he faces a fight to save his Madrid career.
Indeed, there were reports even before the transfer window closed that Zidane was so unimpressed with the Serbia striker that he wanted to immediately send him out loan.
In the end, Jovic stated at the Bernabeu but has played 90 minutes just once and scored a solitary goal in 11 appearances.
That goal came last week, in the 5-0 demolition of Leganes, and the hope was that Jovic might suddenly be set free.
However, even with Madrid struggling to find a breakthrough against Betis at the weekend, Zidane only brought Jovic on with seven minutes to go.
Jovic has been still only 21 and the hope remains that, given time, he can dismiss accusations of him being a one-season wonder.
Whether he gets to do so at Madrid, though, has been probably entirely dependent on Zidane’s own future.
Madrid have a handful of other forwards who, for various reasons, aren’t much use to Zidane right now.
Marco Asensio has been a long-term injury absentee, while Lucas Vazquez has been more noted for his work rate than his productivity.
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Mariano Diaz was re-signed by Julen Lopetegui to replace Ronaldo, even taking over the No.7 shirt, but has never looked good enough for this level, while Brahim Diaz has barely featured for the first team since joining from Manchester City last year.
As it stands, given his broken relationship with Bale, Zidane really needs to get Hazard fit and firing, while at the same time carefully coaxing the best out of youngsters Rodrygo, Vinicius and Jovic.
Otherwise, scoreless draws could become an increasingly common occurrence at the Bernabeu.